I’ve tried and tried, but nothing seems to sum up the power and impact of Project Unbreakable as well as a wordless visit to their site. It’s not an easy read - if you’re likely to be triggered by descriptions of sexual assault or rape, I would advise you to exercise real caution on visiting it.
The site features photographs of victims of assault, each of whom holds a sign with a quote from their attacker. It’s a high impact smack of reality that brings home the reality of sexual assault - an important thing, considering the debate often gets highly conceptual, statistical and hypothetical. It’s also a wonderful source of hope and strength, as victims of assault get on with their lives without fear.
I spoke to Kaelyn Siversky, the executive director of the project, about rape culture, victim blaming and how to deal with the aftermath of sexual assault.
How did Project Unbreakable come about?
Grace Brown, a 19-year-old photographer, created Project Unbreakable in October 2011. One night a friend told Grace her story of sexual assault and Grace, who was already surrounded by survivors of sexual assault, grew increasing troubled at its prevalence and wanted to do something to show the number of people affected by sexual assault. The next morning, she woke up with the idea for Project Unbreakable. Originally Grace wanted the project to be an awareness project, a way to break any stereotypes about survivors, who the are and what they look like, but shortly after beginning the project she was met with the incredible way to heal people.
How do you cope with the sometimes deeply traumatic experiences people share with you?
I have always been a huge advocate for self care. After my own assault and dealing with the experiences shared with me I know that little acts of self care can go a long way. I make sure that if stories ever become too hard for me to listen to I take a day off and focus on myself. I exercise a lot; I run, practice yoga and eat as cleanly as possible. I make sure that my personal time is filled with things I really enjoy doing, I read as often as possible and when things do get overwhelming I write in a journal. Talk therapy is also a huge resource for me as well as making sure I have a really good support system with friends and family back home.
Do you feel that the dominant dialogue in the Western world is to place blame with the victim of an attack rather than the aggressor?
I do believe that our culture is deeply saturated in a victim blaming mentality. I think it is like that in most places- not just the “western world”. I personally believe that this is because we view rape and sexual violence to be such a hideous crime that our culture doesn’t want to believe people are capable of committing these acts without being “tempted”.
How would you educate those who do subscribe to the “they asked for it” mentality?
I would mostly try and explain that no one wants sexual assault to become his or her reality. It’s joining a club no one wants to be a member of. I always try to explain that rape and sexual assault is not about sexual gratification, it’s about power. Saying a survivor “asked for it” is a very classic way of rationalizing a sexual assault. Rape is caused by a rapist, never by the survivor.
How do you feel about rape since you’ve become involved with Project Unbreakable? Are you more or less optimistic about ending rape culture?
Since becoming involved with Project Unbreakable I truly feel as though we have an incredible opportunity to educate our society about sexual assault and its effects. The easiest way to combat rape culture is giving survivors a safe place to tell their story without any fear of not being believed and I think that is what we do. The greatest gift you give a sexual assault survivor is your time and ability to listen. By believing them and allowing them to confide in you, you are taking the first step in ending rape culture.
What advice would you give those who are scared to speak out about an assault?
First and foremost, find a trusted friend or family member and tell only the parts you need to get out. Speaking out about your assault is a courageous thing to do, but it is also completely your choice. You only need to tell those who matter and only as much as you feel comfortable sharing. The people who you love and trust will believe you.